Dealers of Lightning From a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist comes a riveting, true story of an extraordinary group of inventors who brought about a technological revolution that would change the world. Full description
One of the great legends of the computer business is how a photocopier company invented the personal computer and then didn’t know what to do with it. Unlike many such legends, this one is substantially true. Most of the computing technologies we take for granted today–from the windows-based graphical user interface to Ethernet and the laser printer–were all invented in the early 1970s by researchers at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Centre. But although Xerox funded this amazing creative burst, the company proved unable to profit from it, and it was outfits like Apple, 3Com and Microsoft which brought the ideas of the PARC researchers to the market. Micheal Hiltzig’s Dealers of Lightning is not the first attempt to explore the story of how a great corporation “fumbled the future”, but it is the most comprehensive to date.
Although the book covers much of the corporate infighting and the interpersonal rivalries that surrounded the PARC enterprise, its main focus is on the achievements of the squad of brilliant researchers recruited by Bob Taylor, the manager of the PARC Computer Science Lab (and the man who had earlier conceived and funded the ARPANET while working for the Pentagon). It’s a riveting story of remarkable intellectual triumphs, and a sobering reminder that managing people with such high IQs makes herding cats look easy. Several of the characters in the story have testified that Hiltzig’s account is broadly accurate, even when his portrayal of them was not entirely complimentary–which suggests that he has got it about right. In an age when few people know how to manage creative people, Dealers of Lightning should be required reading for everyone who aspires to lead people smarter than themselves. —John Naughton